"Deception, changing speeds, kind of a herky-jerky motion and throwing strikes" is what the Angels' new soft-tossing left-hander credits to his success. "I don't worry about velocity; I've never asked about the gun. I feel like I have enough on my fastball. It plays. I don't feel they're all over my heater. They're fouling it on the late side all the time, so as long as that's going on, I know I have enough on it."
Mills, 27, was originally drafted by the Blue Jays in 2006, but went back to school to get his civil engineering degree at the University of Arizona, then was drafted by them again in the fourth round the following June.
With a high release point, a mid-80s fastball, a slow 12-to-6 curveball and a 70 mph changeup, Mills found some success in the Minor Leagues, posting a 4.32 ERA while making 58 starts in Triple-A's incredibly hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League the last three years. During that span, he also compiled 48 1/3 innings in the big leagues, putting up an 8.57 ERA along with it.
Not great. But when you're dealing Mathis -- a weak-hitting catcher who was expected to be non-tendered because the Chris Iannetta acquisition left him without a role -- you can't expect much anyway.
Upon acquiring Mills from the Blue Jays on Dec. 3, the Angels at least got someone who's serviceable. And this spring, Mills has been even more than that. He came into Tuesday's 5-3 win over the Giants with 8 2/3 scoreless Cactus League innings, then gave up two runs in six innings.
"His ability to change speeds makes his fastball play up a little bit, and I think you saw that today," manager Mike Scioscia said.
Mills will likely start his 2012 season in Triple-A Salt Lake -- it'll be up to Garrett Richards and Jerome Williams for the rotation's last spot -- and that wouldn't necessarily disappoint him, regardless of how good his March has gone.
"As long as I keep getting my innings, keep getting better, that's OK," Mills said.
Considering how a sector of Angels enthusiasts felt about the man he was traded for, Mills could never throw a big league inning for the Angels and fans would still love him.
But the crafty left-hander only sees good things from Mathis.
"I know he was a former first-rounder and other pitchers say they love throwing to him," Mills said. "I love catchers like that, too. If I was the manager of the team, I wouldn't care what my catcher hit. If he hit .100 but caught a heck of a game, that works for me."